By Kimberley Buytaert-Hoefen, Ph.D., Principal Consultant
Since the first case of coronavirus (COVID-19) was identified in December 2019, cases have been confirmed on every continent but Antarctica, prompting the World Health Organization to declare COVID-19 an official pandemic. COVID-19 are a large family of viruses common in animals, but they can cross over to humans, causing illnesses ranging from a common cold to severe respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
As of March 16, 2020, more than 167,000 infections and 6,600 deaths have occurred worldwide, including 4,200 cases and 75 deaths in the United States. It is difficult to predict a potential trajectory of viral spread in the until the numbers become available. In an effort to contain the virus and keep people safe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends that older adults, or those with underlying health issues, avoid non-essential air travel and cruise trips. The U.S. government has restricted travel from high-risk locations.
Respiratory viruses are among the most easily spread microbes and thus considered to have high pandemic potential. There is no natural immunity in the human population to slow the spread of the pathogen. There is no vaccine and developing one can take five to 10 years to bring a new drug to the market. Drug repositioning, can decrease this development time dramatically since it involves the use of FDA-approved drugs that are proven to be safe in humans and will most likely be the fastest path to find a therapeutic solution for the virus. Farther out, studies are on-going develop broad-spectrum antivirals. These medicines could work against many viruses for example MERS, SARS and COVID-19.
Large-scale testing for the virus is needed so we can get a better understanding of how widespread it currently is. The FDA oversees the development and approval of diagnostic products and test kits. On February 29, 2020, the agency announced that it was issuing a policy for COVID-19 molecular diagnostics tests developed and used in laboratories certified to perform high-complexity testing under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) prior to issuance of any emergency use authorizations (EUA) for such tests. A test kit developed by the CDC was granted an EUA on February 4, 2020, following the HHS declaration of a public health emergency.
The coronavirus pandemic had virtually paralyzed parts of the US economy and upended lifestyles over the past week, as school districts and colleges canceled classes and many companies were closed, either voluntarily or by local government mandates. The best defense, from a public health standpoint, is simple and straightforward: isolation.
“FDA’s Evolving Response to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Outbreak” by Aaron L. Josephson, Joanne S. Hawana, https://www.mintz.com/insights-center/viewpoints/2146/2020-03-03-fdas-evolving-response-covid-19-coronavirus-outbreak
Medical Discovery Institute, https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-03-scientist-perspective-covid-pandemic.html